Study finds question of just who is a journalist hard to answer

The consensus definition ended up including some language about employment, with which even the researchers didn’t really agree.

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A new study by Jonathan Peters, an assistant professor at the University of Dayton and a media lawyer, and Edson C. Tandoc Jr. of the Missouri School of Journalism attempted to answer that question and found it considerably difficult.

The researchers interviewed sources from academic, legal and industrial fields to find commonalities in the various definitions of a journalist’s job. Here’s the definition they ended up with:

A journalist is someone employed to regularly engage in gathering, processing, and disseminating (activities) news and information (output) to serve the public interest (social role).

As it turns out, Peters and Tandoc weren’t particularly pleased with that outcome. The mention of employment “delivers a fatal blow to the people engaging in many new forms of journalism,” they wrote, especially with regard to shield laws. The researchers started the study because of discussions of a possible federal shield law.

Leaving bloggers and unpaid citizen journalists out of the mix would “deter innovation,” they added.

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